My Rant on Plant

July 21, 2010 at 2:14 pm | Posted in Concert, Review | 1 Comment
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I have to admit, that I almost didn’t take the time to write this review. It feels almost like treason, or at least a high crime in the rock and roll court of law. I will toss out my fifth amendment right and write it anyway. Before I get into the review itself, however, I would like to cover some concert etiquette. Continue Reading My Rant on Plant…

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Tony Bennett – Tradition Personified

June 7, 2010 at 12:39 pm | Posted in Concert, Jazz, Uncategorized, Vocal | Leave a comment
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Last night’s performance at the Dodge Theatre was, as you’d expect, very well received by the audience. This is a performer that has been around the block a time or two. His distinctive vocal stylings are unmistakable and pitch perfect.

What I realized at that show is that performers like Tony and his musicians are more than the sum of their parts. They produce music that seems almost tangible.  The air fills with the sounds emanating from the stage. You can feel it, and the emotion behind it. Tony’s voice, his band’s musical artistry, and traditional craftsmanship combine to transport you on your journey right into the sound.

His band uses their instruments as extensions of themselves to reach out and envelop the audience.  There’s no new-fangled technical wizardry in their bag of tricks. They rely on old-world craftsmanship. Hardwoods bent and shaped by an artisans hands. Strings stretched taut across the Steinway soundboard, or the length of their stand up bass. Cymbals hand hammered and tuned by ear.

It takes instruments like these, and capable musicians to play them to back a legend like Tony Bennett. The man has one device – his voice.  He projects that voice into his only aid, a handheld wireless microphone, expertly.

From a technical aspect, all the sound and lighting crew have to do is remain as transparent as possible. Expertly engineered microphones  reinforce the sounds emanating from these works of art, or propel Bennett’s voice to your ears. Lights change color and intensity, but never distract from the performers.

This is not a modern audio-visual extravaganza. This is expert musicians expressing emotion through well-crafted instruments. This is Tony Bennett, tradition personified.

Queensrÿche at the Orpheum

May 21, 2010 at 12:01 pm | Posted in Burlesque, Concert, Dance, Metal, Rock, Theater/Theatre | Leave a comment
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Queensryche Aerialist

Queensryche Cabaret

What do you do when you are a multi-platinum metal band that’s been around since the hair metal days, but you aren’t a hair metal band? If you ask the members of Queensrÿche, I think they would say this: “Diversify and have fun doing it”.

In this case, that means things like start your own wine label a la Geoff Tate, or delve into creating your own craft beer as Michael “Whip” Wilton has done. It also might mean hiring your son-in-law to play guitar in your band, or have your wife, daughter, and some friends join the burlesque frivolities on stage for a limited engagement tour.

Yes, burlesque. That’s what the Queensrÿche Cabaret tour is all about. Adults only fun. Hard hitting rock ‘n’ roll and scantily-clad, but fashionably attired, ladies performing theatrical skits and aerial artistry. Throw in some jugglers and a couple of Vaudevillian performers to fill time between costume changes and you have the makings of a good show.

Not your normal metal show, for sure. No moving lights, no fancy projections, no pyrotechnics, no haze generators or smoke spewing here. Think fancy curtains and color washes. This is old-school entertainment boys and girls. People. Artists. Interacting with one another without a semi-trailer worth of fancy electronics. What a concept.

Of course, the band was as tight as ever. Not many bands can sound “so studio” live as Queensrÿche always manages to do. Hell, at one point Parker Lundgren had to deal with a malfunctioning guitar strap at least four times during one song. He managed well, only missing a couple of notes.

The set list wasn’t your usual ‘Rÿche, for sure. Yes, they played the hits. They played a couple new things obviously written for this new mini rock opera. They also managed to finesse some of those familiar “filler” tracks right into the story line.

Rock operas and concept albums are cool. Time has proven that. Some times you get lucky in life and get a chance to see Roger Waters do “The Wall” live. Sometimes, you get to see ‘Rÿche perform a cool little cabaret show in a beautiful theater from the ’20s complete with fancy red curtains and gold trim. Either way, you are enjoying music as it was meant to be…live and engaging. You should pull out the earbuds more often, and do just that.

Alice Breaks The Chains At Dodge Theatre

February 18, 2010 at 4:30 pm | Posted in Concert, Review, Rock, Theater/Theatre | Leave a comment
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I’m happy to report that rock ‘n’ roll as we know it is still alive and kicking ass.

Alice In Chains

Warm up act Creature With the Atom Brain sounded pretty tight with a solid back beat. However, the guitars and melodies were probably more suitable for an all day festival where you could really get into a nice groove a la Deep Purple. Their stage set consisted of nothing but a big black curtain behind them and 8 moving lights in the front which were limited to color and iris changes. But hey, as an opener even being allowed iris changes isn’t always guaranteed.

As their set ended a big white drape came down in front so the set change could happen in privacy. Turned out that it really wasn’t just a privacy screen. Alice In Chains used it to project their shadows on as they opened their show. Definitely caught me off guard, and looked really damn cool.

That shadow screen dropped to reveal what we called a rock concert back in the day. With Sean Kinney pounding the skins and Mike Inez on bass; an incredibly tight, awesomely loud vibe filled the room at Dodge. I’m sure that had a lot to do with the fact the pit chairs were removed for Standing Room Only GA Pit admission. Something we almost never see anymore.

Jerry Cantrell’s definitive guitar sound and new vocalist William Duvall let us know immediately that Alice In Chains is back in full force. That was a big relief, as I’m sure many of my fellow concert-goers were unsure that AIC could rock like they did before the loss of frontman Layne Staley in 2002.

Opening with old, familiar tunes brought even the seated crowd to their feet, where they stayed all show. Familiar material dominated the first half of the show before they threw in new material from Black Gives Way to Blue at us. even though the new stuff was unfamiliar to me I can tell you it kicks ass. William has a great voice for rock in roll, though he did let us know he was “sick as a fucken dog”.  That definitely accounts for his voice tiring a bit near the end.

Like I said above, this was definitely a rock concert. Moving lights were the order of the day. Looked like perhaps a mix of Vari-lites and some cool new stuff from High End Sytems including three DL-3 projectors and some fancy LED automated wash luminaires. I’ll have to see if Mike Baldassari can give me specifics. Update: Mike did get me some specifics. I was wrong on the Vari-lites. The majority of the movers used were actually Martin MAC 700’s. I knew something was different about their shape, but I didn’t grab any pictures – sometimes its hard to guess make/model numbers by memory.

Those DL-3’s are ultra-cool little units. They look like a standard moving light, but they pack some secret weapons. Namely, the ability to project and shoot full motion video. That means they can film the band and project them on any surface they can reach. They’re bright, so they can reach just about anything in the theatre, too.

Concert audio was supplied by the standard Dodge line array system (not sure of manufacturer – EAW perhaps? I’ll have to ask the guys next time) which, for the most part, sounded great because of all the standing people really tightening up the bass. It had some fleeting moments where the high mids broke up slightly and I’m starting to wonder if perhaps my “usual seats” might be a “weird spot” for those frequencies in particular, or if the system could use just a tad more headroom (insert standard soundman joke here).

All in all it was another great concert at Dodge Theatre. As usual, we took the light rail down there and I definitely encourage you to do the same as its very convenient and costs less than parking in the garages!

~~I’m throwing some photos up on the photo page but be aware that Dodge has a policy against ultra-zoom cams so these are done with a tiny pocket cam~~

Chris Botti Trumpeted Into Dodge

February 10, 2010 at 12:34 am | Posted in Concert, Jazz, Review | Leave a comment
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Sound the horns, err…horn…there was a jazz soloist at Dodge Theatre. A trumpet soloist of all things. Yeah, I know – it sounds as crazy as a cello soloist or a guy that plays vibraphone taking center stage for an entire show. Oddly, these things all have something in common. Musicianship.

Chris BottiSoloists like this have come to terms with the fact that these instruments aren’t solo instruments, traditionally. However, if you can establish a rapport with an audience upfront then you can entice them to listen to what you have to say whilst saying it through whatever instrument you choose.

In the case of Chris Botti, that instrument is a trumpet and when Chris plays the audience listens. Then they applaud. Sometimes they yell funny things and Chris speaks back to them. His performance seemed more like sharing music with an audience  than performing it in front of them. That’s jazz for ya.

Chris is a good entertainer. In addition to the great music, he tells back-stories for songs which immediately engages you on a personal level. He also seemed to be a genuinely nice guy. Nice enough that since there were a few open seats right up front he had his crew round up some young musicians that were seated in the back of the venue and escort them to prime viewing and listening area so that they could experience music up close and personal, rather than via the internet. That’s cool. Jazz guys are like that…nice and cool.

Now, I don’t claim to be a jazz aficionado, in fact I don’t even know if jazz listeners like the word aficionado…but this guy is good. His band consisted of Billy Childs (piano), Billy Kilson (drums), Mark Whitfield (guitar), Tim Lefebvre (bass), and Geoffrey Keezer (keyboards). They were all spot on. The guest vocalist Sy Smith, aka @syberspace on twitter, and violinist Caroline Campbell were awesome. The sound man understood the nuances and dynamic range of the band he was dealing with and had the sound dialed in very nicely. The light show was nonexistent, which is par for the course at a jazz show, so no qualms there. However, the follow spot person needs some practice.

Tim Lefebvre, Sy Smith & Geoffrey Keezer

Tim Lefebvre, Sy Smith & Geoffrey Keezer

Aficionado or not, when I get a chance to see a soloist perform, I definitely check it out. No matter what the instrument, you can bet that if someone is backing a nationwide tour that there is probably a good reason. That reason is almost always great music without any frills. You can never go wrong with great music.

Symphonic Zeppelin and Queen

January 30, 2010 at 12:47 pm | Posted in Concert, Photography, Review, Rock, Symphony, Theater/Theatre | Leave a comment
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Another night using the light rail to get downtown to Dodge Theatre has passed. This time it was to check out the music of Led Zeppelin and Queen with a full rock band and the Phoenix Symphony.

Stairway Symphony

The show was pretty amazing.  Symphonic rock bands are nothing new, but it’s always nice to go see and hear a symphony without having to get all dressed up beforehand.

I’m not sure why this is at Dodge and not Symphony Hall, but since I have season tickets to Dodge it worked out well for me. As well as can be expected without the orchestra in a proper pit anyhow. It’s really difficult to capture the nuances of an orchestra when a lot of their sounds are being sucked up by stage curtains and overshadowed by a lead guitarist. Don’t get me wrong, the guitarist was very good and has obviously spent a lot of time recreating the exact tones of Jimmy and Brian but last night’s performance was a little harsh on the ears in the high-mid frequencies. Not sure whether I should blame the player or the sound engineer there. Either could have alleviated that problem.

Conductor Brent Havens did a great job, considering he is touring around and working with a different group of musicians each day. He was also kind enough to step aside at one point and let an audience member come up and conduct a song! Her name was Morgan, and she did a pretty awesome job for an amateur maestro, so props to her.

The show is divided into two parts. The music of Queen and then Zepp after an intermission. All the players remain the same except for the lead singers.  Randy Jackson does Zeppelin and Brody Dolyniuk fronts the Queen portion of the show. At one point electric violinist, Allegra,  joins in on the fun. Powell Randolph, drummer, even pounds the skins bare-handed Bonham-style during the obligatory Zeppelin drum solo.

Phoenix Symphony Does QueenLighting and sound were minimal, but adequate. They tossed in some good effects from the movable lights, and did some nice guitar panning during key points of guitarist George Cintron’s shining moments.  The audience even showed its knowledge of symphony protocol by providing standing ovations a few times, and remaining seated the rest of the time. Of course, we all stomped and clapped along at the appropriate times and a few even brandished lighters, not cellphones, during the last song. That was a welcome sight. All in all – it was a pretty good show and I’ll definitely check it out when it tours again.

U2 Getting Intimate With Glendale Arizona

October 21, 2009 at 4:34 pm | Posted in Concert, Photography, Review, Rock, Social Networking | Leave a comment
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Have you ever tried to be intimate? With a stadium full of people? U2 has.

U2 Intimate Superstructure

U2 Intimate Superstructure

What does it take to get intimate with 50,000+ people simultaneously? Well, as far as I can tell…a whole lot of cash. Way more cash than getting intimate with one or two people for sure. I’m talking the kind of cash even a supergroup like U2 needs to round up a corporate sponsor like Blackberry for.

Once you have that kind of cash you can go about calling up someone like Willie Williams and asking him to come up with some ideas on how to go about it. In this case, it apparently only took him one idea according to the guys over at Live Design.

I’m not going to get into the exacting specs of just how they pull this amazing feat of intimacy off, but here’s a quick list of some of the many things involved and you can follow the links if you have a burning curiosity for all things “concert tech” or an extra $ 50 mil burning a hole in your pocket.

  • Audio – Incredible 15 zone system Clair i-5 – Yes it goes to 11.
  • Lighting – Nope. Not what you think. No Vari-lites here. These are Bad Boys from the guys over at PRG. There’s a lot of them.
  • Spotlights – Coupla dozen for sure
  • Video – Insane, Custom-designed LED job by the guys over at Barco. Yes it moves. Yes it’s ginormous. Follow the links if you wanna know just how amazingly crazy this thing is.
  • Cameras – Robotic Moving Awe-inspiring setup from the guys at Telemetrics
  • Massive Superstructure Stage Rig – Bono calls it a UFO. See the show to find out why. Suffice it to say this rig is the key to pulling off the intimacy-on-a-grand-scale concept. Its big, heavy, expensive and they had to build 3 of them.
  • Band. Oh yeah – Insert supergroup into the middle of all that technology and Bam! Instant rock concert.

So, there you have a quick breakdown of how to get intimate with a bunch of people at one time. Once you have all the pieces in place the only thing that can stand in your way are traffic problems and social media-ites that like to complain about $20 parking costs.

So, as I close – you are probably asking yourself – did U2 actually pull off getting intimate with an entire city? Look at the pics on their photo page and you tell me. Keep in mind, these shots were from the upper level of the stadium. Intimate enough?

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